Fernando Torres is the only Chelsea player travelling to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil already in possession of a World Cup winner’s medal.The striker was an important member of the Spain squad that lifted the trophy four years ago, and in the first of a two-part interview with the official Chelsea website, he recalls that momentous month in South Africa…
‘A World Cup is always something different,’ says Fernando Torres. He would know.
The striker represented his country on the global stage for the first time at Germany 2006. Spain didn’t make it past the second round that year, but Torres and his team-mates showed glimpses of both the ability and the industry that would, quite remarkably, make them European and world champions within four years.
‘The group that was in South Africa when we won the World Cup was more or less the same group that was in Germany four years before,’ explains Torres. ‘I think that experience of losing in the World Cup quite early on was a big help for the future, and in particular for South Africa.
‘Two years after that we won the European Championships. It soon became a team that knew how to win, but we also knew that the World Cup was completely different. It is not a European Championships.
‘We went to the World Cup in South Africa as the favourites, which was a new thing for us. Spain was always a team that could be a contender but never won, so people never really worried about them.
‘At that time we were the European champions and the number one favourites. Everyone was against us, everyone wanted to beat us – and then we lost the first game against Switzerland.’
Torres says this with the tone of somebody forcing themselves to bring back a shocking memory.
‘The worst thing about losing to Switzerland was that we lost playing the way we wanted to play. Sometimes you start thinking if it’s the best way to go. There were doubts from the press. I remember a meeting we had after that game. We agreed it was an accident. Playing this way we knew we were going to win more games than we were going to lose.
‘We didn’t have any doubt about the style we were playing after that, but we knew we couldn’t drop another point in the group stage because otherwise we were out.’
Spain obliged, defeating both Honduras and a tricky Chile side. Even better, with the Swiss dropping points in their other two games, Spain qualified in first place.
‘We then faced Portugal in the last 16,’ continues Torres. ‘They are always a hard opponent for Spain – they know how to play against us, they are very aggressive, they don’t concede a lot of space and, with players like Ronaldo and Nani, they are great on the counter-attack.’
A tight game was decided by a solitary second-half David Villa goal. Spain’s quarter-final, against Paraguay, followed that exact pattern, except for one thing.
‘In the 70th minute they got a penalty. If they scored we were out. There would have been no time for a reaction. Iker [Casillas] saved the penalty and after that we scored our goal. Step-by-step our confidence was growing, and we were getting better as a team.’
In the last four Spain were pitted with Germany, and while the match in Durban will not be remembered as a classic, yet again La Roja did the job.
‘We had beaten them two years before in the final of Euro 2008, and they wanted revenge.
‘It was a difficult, ugly game. It was very tough with not many chances. And then, we scored from a corner! Spain beat Germany with a goal from a corner kick – no-one was expecting that. Football is like this, and that’s why it is beautiful, because this kind of thing can happen.’
Now, just Holland lay between Spain and the ultimate prize. The final in Johannesburg was a physical affair. The Dutch clearly felt an aggressive approach was the best to adopt if Spain’s passing game was to be stopped. It nearly worked, too. Arjen Robben was guilty of a couple of one-on-one misses in normal time. Then, with penalties looming at the end of extra-time, the Spanish struck. It was their fourth successive 1-0 knockout win.
‘Iniesta’s goal is going to be in our heads and in our minds forever,’ beams Torres. ‘Everyone in Spain can you tell you the passes we made before Andres scored that goal. It was an amazing feeling.
‘Sometimes when you are a kid you can dream but for us, as Spanish people, we never dreamed as high as winning the World Cup. We grew up watching Spain on television not going further than the quarter-finals.
‘It was something that was there at that moment and we needed to take it. No-one knows if you are going to play another World Cup final. We knew it was our chance, and we couldn’t let the chance pass away and think that maybe in the future we would get another one. It was the game of our lives.’
It is clear, even four years down the line, the thrill provided by the magnitude of what Torres and his team-mates accomplished that summer has not waned on the striker. Indeed, as he analyses the achievement now, he is able to reflect on the bigger picture: to place his nation’s World Cup win in context.
‘As time passes it’s even more exciting to look back and see the memories. When we meet in the national team we talk about that a lot, especially the group that was there. Nobody believed in that group when we started playing together.
‘It was a difficult transition from Germany in 2006 to Austria in 2008, when we won the Euros. It was a really hard time for Luis Aragones, who was the manager, and for the players because no-one wanted Spain playing with little passes and with lots of possession. No-one wanted this kind of football; no-one liked this kind of football.
‘Everybody was saying we couldn’t go to the World Cup or the European Championship playing this way because the strong teams would kill us. There was a lot of criticism around the team. That made us so strong. Aragones always said: ‘This team is going to be champions. You still don’t believe in that but you will.’
‘Winning the Euros gave us a big chance to understand what he was saying, but the spirit and the way we behaved as a group was there. We knew we could win the World Cup even when we lost against Switzerland. This belief was the key.
‘Once you win you appreciate it even more because of what the group had gone through in the past. Obviously you won the World Cup and that’s the main thing, but when you see your team-mates you are happy for every one of them. That’s a good feeling when you win and you feel happy not just for the trophy, but because you’re team-mates are also happy.’
By Rupert Cane
– In part two tomorrow, Fernando Torres assesses his nations’ chances this time around in Brazil, and praises the impact one of his Chelsea team-mates has had for club and country…